Clothing collection provides historical perspective

It's Happening at State, published by the Office of the President/University Relations, North Dakota State University, Fargo, September 20, 2000

"Clothing Collection Provides Historical Perspective." It's Happening at State, 20 September 2000.

It's a gift that gives a glimpse at a lifetime on the North Dakota prairie. "The Pauline Neher Diede Collection" is a set of clothing dating from 1932 to the 1970s that helps represent how a first-generation Germans from Russia adapted to American culture.

The garments are part of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection housed in the Emily Reynolds Costume Collection at North Dakota State University Library. Donated by Pauline Diede, Hebron, N.D., the clothing items include her 1932 wedding gown, a 1950s brown rayon dress, a lavender nylon knit dress from the 1970s and a navy blue dress with matching jacket. Also included are three coordinating hats: a brown head-band with leaves and netting, a lavender hat with lilies around the edge of the crown and a blue "pill box" with navy trim. In addition, Diede donated handicrafts such as a crocheted doily and table cover and a huck-woven pillow case. "Pauline has given things that span her lifetime," said Ann Braaten, senior lecturer of apparel, textiles and interior design and Reynolds Collection curator. "She is a first-generation German from Russia, and the garments show how she blended in to American culture."

Diede said the collection is the perfect place to preserve and display the clothing items. "They represent the changes of the styles over the decades," she said. "I see them as a way to honor the Germans from Russia Heritage Society." Diede, who turns 89 in October, is a longtime feature writer and "The Prairie Echoes" columnist for the Hebron Herald newspaper. She has written six books about her life on the North Dakota prairie, and is currently working on the seventh, titled "The Road Home." She received the North Dakota Professional Communicators' "Communicator of Achievement" award in 1995.

The daughter of parents who came to America from Russia in 1909, Diede was born in a one-room sod house in southwest Mercer County. "Germans from Russia were not considered a superior class of people," said Diede, who is an active member of the Germans from Russian Heritage Society. "We often did not have the privileges and advantages of other nationalities. Nevertheless, we brought a lot of culture into the society and the offspring became progressive, hard-working citizens."

Braaten said the clothing collection provides a visual addition to the first-person history Diede has provided in her many writings. "The items help us understand how quickly Germans from Russia assimilated into American culture," she said. "They definitely maintained aspects of their Germans from Russia identity, but they adapted into the American way of doing things. Clothing is so visible and it is often one of the first things that change." Braaten describes Diede as a very fashionable lady who came from a family that was not wealthy. "But she dressed in a way that was current with the times. The collection shows what somebody did in that portion of the prairie to dress in a fashionable way," she said. "Having items from North Dakotans who were not as prosperous helps us to understand the dress of all people."

The Reynolds Collection focuses on clothing, textiles and related items from across the state, region and world. The collection works with the NDSU Libraries to preserve and collect items representing Germans from Russia Heritage. The Pauline Neher Diede Collection is available for viewing by appointment. For more information, contact Braaten at (701) 231-7367.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller